When I was in my prime I used drivers which were much heavier and longer in the shaft than the clubs used today. I used to swing more slowly and would get most of my distance through the air. This policy worked well in the cool British climate but was not so good in tropical countries.
During my world tour following my Open win in 1951, I played in the McWilliams Wines tournament at the Kensington Golf Club, Sydney. It was in the middle of the southern hemisphere summer and the weather was sweltering – well into the 90s Fahrenheit (over 32 degrees C) and humid with it.
I was pleased to find that I was drawn to play in the first round with my pal, the Australian pro Norman Von Nida. On the first tee there were thousands of people and I was already perspiring as Norman teed off and hit a beautiful drive down the middle.
When it came to my turn I had a practice swing and it felt as if I had a sledgehammer in my hand. I teed off and hooked the ball so badly that it finished on the adjoining 9th fairway. Nevertheless I hit a good iron shot to the green and got my 4, the same as Norman who had played in regulation.
On the short second, I missed the green but chipped close and holed for a three to equal Norman’s regulation par. On the third hole I sliced the ball so badly that it finished on the far side of the 4th fairway. Undaunted, I hit a wonderful 2 iron shot to the middle of the green and again got my par.
On the 4th hole I sliced again, back on to the 3rd fairway. I could not seem to get it together at all. The green was completely obscured from this position but once again I put my 4 iron shot on the green and got my par, while Norman again played the hole in regulation. We had only been meeting on the tees and greens.
As I walked on to the 5th tee, Norman was standing there with folded arms and he began to laugh.
“You’re level par, the same as me, but I really want to see where you are going to put this one Max!”
I looked at the hole. There was waist high grass on the left hand side, and this was tiger snake country. There was a steep bank on the right covered with long grass and with a hedge along the top. It was a par 5 so I had to take my driver but there was nowhere else to go but straight.
Thank God this was one drive I did hit straight. But on the 6th hole I was off the fairway again.
Norman told the other pros about my round in the changing rooms and they gave me the nicname of “Morteen,” the name of the big sprayers the greenkeepers were using at the time for overnight course irrigation.
I should have learned from this lesson, which was confirmed on a later occasion by accident. Travelling to Spain for the 1957 Spanish Open, the airline lost my clubs and a lady member loaned me her set for the practice rounds until my own set arrived.
I liked the feel of these light irons so much in the very hot weather that I continued to play with them and won the tournament.
I brought the clubs back to Britain in the confident expectation that they would help me win a few more back home. But in our colder atmosphere I found I could not hit the ball at all with them; the experiment was a hopeless failure.